Although Syrah is native to the Rhone valley in France it is equally, if not more, famous as Shiraz in Australia.
The greater recognition of the word ‘Shiraz’ than ‘Syrah’ has been brushed aside because the French use appellation names, such as Hermitage, Côte Rôtie and Cornas, on their labels rather than the word ‘Syrah’ itself. But this overlooks the important role Australian winemakers such as Penfold’s have played in developing a new style for this grape variety and encouraging other countries to take up production. California, South Africa, Chile, Italy and Spain have all experimented and found success with Syrah.
Time and experience count for a great deal with Syrah and, although the grape enjoys a warm climate, if too hot the wines become dense with an overwhelming character of burnt rubber. Good quality Australian Shiraz has taken years to perfect and requires careful production in order to harness the correct balance between power, concentration and freshness.
It is also worth remembering that, whilst Syrah has been taken to new regions across the globe due to its success in France, returning to the Rhone Valley can offer good value for a grape variety that commands high prices.
The wines made from Syrah are known to be majestic, powerful and concentrated but their intensity and complexity varies according to region and production style.
Hermitage is made from 100% Syrah and has incredible ageing capabilities if made well. Black pepper is the overwhelming and most recognisable characteristic of Syrah in this region but Hermitage also offers leather and spice when allowed to age.
2014 Domaine Jean Louis Chave Farconnet Selection Hermitage £48 per bottle
A good introductory Hermitage that has lovely fruit, good balance but possibly not the most complex.
2012 M. Chapoutier La Sizeranne Hermitage £69 per bottle
Hailed as one of the great Hermitage producers Chapoutier has a clear defined style that is magic for some but not for others. La Sizeranne is blended from three vineyards and is usually full of warmth and spice. The 2012 is just beginning to settle but will offer concentrated dark fruit and pepper in abundance.
Côte Rôtie has always been put forward as a feminine and delicate Syrah due to the addition of small quantities of Viognier. This has changed over the years though with many producers in the region choosing not to blend and to focus on 100% Syrah production. This is not always made clear so a bit of research is sensible.
2013 Domaine Gilles Barge Le Combard Cote Rotie £56 per bottle
Made in the traditional style with a small amount of Viognier that hasn’t gone far in taming the power of the Syrah but has encouraged a clean finish. Dark fruit, classic pepper and violets on the nose that have just begun to settle.
2018 Domaine Garon Les Triotes Cote Rotie £51 per bottle
A steady and consistent producer whose 100% Syrah Cote Rotie is full and concentrated but usually carries good acidity to cut through the heady power of the Syrah. The 2018 is a little young but has a lovely hit of fruit.
Cornas created little excitement fifteen years ago and usually offered good value. Many have now cottoned on to the quality of the Syrah produced from this region in the Northern Rhone and prices have risen sharply. However, along with the increased interest has come an increase in quality and focus as well as new producers coming into the region.
2015 Domaine Alain Voge Vieilles Vignes Cornas £68 per bottle
The 50 year old vines this wine is made from impart incredible concentration with a floral nose yet peppery and meaty palate. Full, juicy black fruit with enough acidity to stop it becoming too dense on the finish.
The Barossa Valley in South Australia is where Shiraz gained its fame. The full, concentrated power of Syrah is harnessed in the heat of this region and, although spice is present, a more noticeable note of dark chocolate sets them apart from French Syrah.
2008 Penfolds Saint Henri Shiraz £80 per magnum
Penfolds are one of the most recognisable names in Australian wine with a vast portfolio that is ever expanding. A little surprisingly they have managed to retain and even increase their reputation for exceptionally high quality fine wines and the St Henri Shiraz is always highly rated. However, it isn’t the most well-known or sought after of the fine wines and is a bit of a dark horse in style. Unlike a lot of Australian Shiraz the St Henri is aged in large, old vats that impart little oak flavour allowing a clearer and more nuanced expression of Shiraz from this region. 2008 was a great year with full fruit, liquorice and smoke with strong peppery heat.
2006 Standish The Relic Shiraz-Viognier Barossa Valley £75 per bottle
Although big and powerful Australian Shiraz tends to have a shorter than expected drinking window. There are a few exceptions notably the more quality conscious producers and those that have honed their skill over the decades. Standish is one of these producers and their Relic Shiraz-Viognier blend is a good example of French style being adapted to new-world regions and creating something unique. It has all the dark fruit and pepper characteristics one would expect but has an elegance and femininity that sets it apart from the more conventional Australian Shiraz.
Italy is still finding its feet with Syrah with central and southern Italy encountering the most success so far. It is early days though so looking to a good producer will pay off.
2009 Duemani Suisassi Toscana IGT £76 per bottle
Duemani are famous for their Tuscan Cabernet Franc which is an incredible wine if allowed to age. Their Syrah is still finding its feet and again, requires age thanks to the use of new oak which can overpower when young. The 2009 has evolved and the balance is beginning to even itself out with dark, powerful fruit and a sweet, delicate edge.